Report: MI5 had seen ‘highly relevant’ intel on Manchester suicide bomber

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LONDON — A suicide attack at a concert by pop star Ariana Grande in Manchester in May might have been foiled had investigators grasped the importance of “highly relevant” intelligence that passed their desks, according to a report commissioned by the British government that was released Tuesday.

“It is conceivable that the Manchester attack in particular might have been averted had the cards fallen differently,” the review concluded, noting that the bomber, Salman Abedi, 22, had been a former “subject of interest” but had not been under active investigation at the time of the attack.

Abedi was born and raised in Manchester. He had traveled to and from Libya in the days before he struck at Manchester Arena, killing 22 people and wounding more than 100.

The suicide bombing was one of four terrorist attacks in Britain this year that were studied by David Anderson, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. He was allowed to examine nine classified internal reviews, 1,150 pages, that were conducted by counterterrorism police and the domestic intelligence service MI5.

Anderson said authorities might have missed some important intelligence in the Manchester case, but he also noted: “Attacks continue to be successfully disrupted, often after intensive and painstaking work, with successful prosecutions and long prison sentences a regular occurrence.”

He said he was briefed on 20 recently thwarted plots. MI5’s director told the British cabinet on Tuesday that police and intelligence services had foiled nine terrorism plots in the past year.

Britain’s home secretary, Amber Rudd, said the Manchester bomber had been “a closed subject of interest at the time of the attack” and, therefore, not under active investigation.

“In early 2017, MI5 nonetheless received intelligence on him, which was assessed as not being related to terrorism. In retrospect the intelligence can be seen to be highly relevant. Had an investigation been reopened at the time, it cannot be known whether Abedi’s plans could have been stopped. MI5 assesses that it would have been unlikely,” Rudd said in a statement.

The home secretary added that counterterrorism forces were running “well over 500 live operations — a third up since the beginning of the year — involving roughly 3,000 subjects of interest.”